“Servant leadership is not about being submissive. It is about transforming power to be of service to others.” — Peter Block
Servant leadership is a profound approach that reshapes leadership dynamics by prioritizing the well-being, growth, and empowerment of those they lead.
This philosophy stands in stark contrast to conventional leadership models centered on authority and self-gain.
At Microsoft, a tech giant known for its relentless pursuit of innovation and excellence, I’ve had the privilege of observing leaders from diverse backgrounds and with varying approaches.
Some are driven by self-gain, seeking hierarchy, power, and status, while others embody a radically different philosophy—one that prioritizes service, empathy, and the well-being of their teams.
These are the servant leaders, the unsung heroes who rewrite the rules of leadership and redefine what it means to lead exceptionally well.
The Power of Servant Leadership
Servant leadership fosters higher employee engagement by creating a culture of trust, open communication, and empowerment, where team members feel valued and motivated to contribute their best.
It transforms individuals from bosses to leaders by emphasizing humility, service, and empathy, enabling them to inspire and empower their teams.
This approach brings out the best in individuals and teams by prioritizing personal growth, aligning roles with talents, and promoting collaboration, ultimately cultivating a culture of empowerment that fuels innovation and success.
Servant Leadership–The Key to Leading Exceptionally Well
Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership from the Core, shares a tip on how leaders can lead exceptionally well.
“In order to lead exceptionally well, you have to serve your people.
There’s a term for that style of leadership, you’ve probably heard it.
It’s called Servant Leadership.”
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership, in a nutshell, is a leadership philosophy that flips the traditional top-down leadership model on its head.
Instead of leaders primarily focusing on their own authority and power, servant leaders prioritize serving the needs of their team members and helping them thrive.
Imagine it as a leader who acts more like a coach, mentor, or even a servant to their team.
They actively listen to their team’s concerns, provide support, and remove obstacles that hinder their progress.
Servant leaders empower their team members, enable their growth, and foster a collaborative, trust-based work environment.
The core idea is that by serving the people they lead, servant leaders can unlock their team’s potential, boost morale, and achieve outstanding results.
It’s a powerful approach that emphasizes empathy, humility, and a genuine commitment to the well-being and development of others.
Servant Leadership Flips the Pyramid Upside Down
Servant leadership is like turning the traditional pyramid-shaped hierarchy upside down. In the usual top-down approach, leaders sit at the pinnacle, often disconnected from the needs of their team members.
But with servant leadership, it’s the complete opposite.
Picture a pyramid where the leader is at the bottom, lifting and supporting everyone above them.
They prioritize the success and well-being of their team members, helping them reach their highest potential. It’s as if the leader becomes the foundation upon which their team stands.
This approach isn’t about leaders lording over their teams; it’s about leaders serving their teams.
They listen, they provide, and they empower. It’s a reversal of the usual power dynamic, where the leader’s role is to uplift and enable their people.
In doing so, they create a stronger, more harmonious, and ultimately more successful organization.
The Servant as Leader
While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the term ‘servant leadership’ itself was introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf in his groundbreaking essay The Servant as Leader, initially published in 1970.
Greenleaf on servant-leadership:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.
That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.
Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is:
- Do those served grow as persons?
- Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
- And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society?
- Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“
The Institution as Servant
Robert Greenleaf had a profound insight that extended beyond individuals. He believed that organizations could embody servant leadership as well.
He held a strong conviction that organizations led by servant-leaders had the potential to change the world.
In his subsequent significant work, The Institution as Servant, Greenleaf introduced what is commonly referred to as the “credo.”
In this piece, Greenleaf stated:
“This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.
Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt.
If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”
The One Question Every Leader Should Be Asking
Marcel Schwantes says there is one question every leader should be asking.
“One reminder that should be at the forefront of every leader’s mind is in the form of a question–a powerful, hold-up-the-mirror question:
How will I be remembered by my peers, colleagues, and employees?
Would anyone who’s ever worked for you put you on their short list of “best bosses?” Would anyone share stories of how being led by you changed their life? How being led by you helped them grow personally and professionally?
Yes, the bar is pretty high for servant leaders, and not everyone measures up. Why do I say that? Because servant leaders are known to be selfless givers.
They give of their time, they share their wisdom and knowledge, they pour into their people, and they place their followers’ interests ahead of their own.
They do all of this because they have a genuine, intrinsic desire to see people succeed.”
Servant Leadership Puts Empowerment at the Edge
Servant Leadership is all about putting empowerment at the forefront. It’s the practice of flipping the traditional leadership model on its head.
Instead of leaders directing and controlling from the top, servant leaders serve and empower those they lead.
This approach recognizes that people at the “edge” of an organization, the frontline workers or team members closest to the action, often possess valuable insights and abilities.
By empowering these individuals, servant leaders tap into a wellspring of collective potential, driving innovation, motivation, and success.
In essence, Servant Leadership is about trusting, enabling, and uplifting those on the front lines to drive positive change and achieve remarkable outcomes.
Servant Leadership is the Key to Employee Empowerment
Servant leadership is the key to employee empowerment because it redefines the traditional power dynamic within organizations.
In conventional leadership models, leaders typically hold power and authority, and employees often follow orders. This approach can stifle individual growth and creativity, leaving employees feeling disempowered and detached from their work. Servant leadership, on the other hand, flips this dynamic.
Servant leaders prioritize the growth and well-being of their team members above all else.
By focusing on the individual needs, aspirations, and strengths of each employee, they create an environment where people feel valued and supported.
This, in turn, empowers employees to take ownership of their roles.
Empowerment is not about giving people power.
It’s about creating conditions where people discover and unleash their own power. Servant leaders do this by actively listening to their employees, removing obstacles, and providing guidance when needed.
Furthermore, servant leaders promote a culture of trust and psychological safety.
When employees know that their leaders genuinely care about their success and development, they are more likely to take risks, voice their ideas, and embrace challenges.
This leads to increased innovation, engagement, and a sense of purpose in their work.
Servant leadership empowers employees by recognizing that true power is not held by the leader but is intrinsic to each individual.
By nurturing their growth, providing support, and fostering trust, servant leaders unlock the full potential of their teams, creating a workplace where empowerment is not granted but discovered and cultivated.
From Boss to Leader
Servant leadership is the transformative path that helps individuals transition from being mere bosses to true leaders.
Here’s how it works:
- Shift from Control to Empowerment: Bosses tend to control and dictate, while leaders empower and enable. Servant leadership encourages you to let go of micro-management and trust your team’s capabilities. By empowering others to make decisions and take ownership, you foster a culture of accountability and innovation.
- Focus on Serving: Bosses often focus on personal gain and recognition. In contrast, servant leaders prioritize serving the needs of their team members. They actively listen, offer support, and remove obstacles to help their team succeed. This builds trust and loyalty among team members.
- Lead by Example: Instead of merely giving orders, servant leaders lead by example. They set high standards of behavior and work ethics, demonstrating the values they expect from their team. This inspires others to follow suit, creating a positive and productive work environment.
- Prioritize People: Bosses might prioritize tasks, deadlines, and outcomes over the well-being of their team. Servant leaders recognize that people are their most valuable asset. They invest time in understanding their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations, aligning roles with individual talents for maximum impact.
- Promote Growth: Servant leaders are dedicated to the personal and professional growth of their team. They provide opportunities for skill development, mentorship, and learning. This not only enhances individual capabilities but also contributes to the overall success of the organization.
Servant leadership transforms the role of a boss into that of a leader by emphasizing humility, service, empathy, and a deep commitment to the growth and well-being of others.
This shift in perspective and behavior can have a profound impact on team dynamics and organizational success.
Servant Leadership is the Key to Higher Performance and Employee Engagement
Here are three ways servant leadership enables higher performance and employee engagement:
- Empowerment Fuels Performance: Servant leaders empower their teams by trusting them with decision-making authority. This empowerment ignites a sense of ownership and responsibility among employees, driving them to perform at their best. When individuals believe their contributions matter and have an impact, they are more likely to excel in their roles.
- Open Communication Drives Engagement: Servant leaders prioritize open and transparent communication. This fosters a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and innovative ideas. Engaged employees actively participate in discussions and problem-solving, leading to higher levels of engagement and creativity within the team.
- Recognition and Growth Motivate: Acknowledging and appreciating employees’ efforts, coupled with providing opportunities for growth and development, serves as a powerful motivator. Servant leaders understand that satisfied and growing team members are more likely to be engaged in their work, resulting in improved performance and overall employee satisfaction.
Servant Leadership is a Transformative Approach to Leadership
Servant leadership represents a transformative approach to leadership that flips the traditional top-down hierarchy and empowers individuals at all levels of an organization.
It’s about leaders serving their teams, prioritizing their well-being, and enabling their growth.
By shifting from control to empowerment, focusing on serving, leading by example, prioritizing people, and promoting growth, individuals can transition from being mere bosses to true leaders who inspire higher performance and foster employee engagement.
Servant leadership is the key to unlocking the full potential of individuals and teams, creating a culture of trust, innovation, and success.
Servant leadership is a transformational approach that can change the world of work for the better.
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